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Friday, 7 February, 2003, 11:42 GMT
Geologists investigate Trojan battlefield
Map, BBC
The Greek armies would have attacked from the west
Homer's description of the Trojan battlefield in his classic poem the Iliad is accurate, say scientists.

The subject of the story - the Greeks' 10-year siege of Troy and the wooden horse they used to bring it to an end - may have been a myth, but its geography was not.

It was right in front of Troy that we were drilling a hole and seashells came out

Chris Kraft
The researchers drilled sediments in northwest Turkey to map how the coastline would have looked around the city more than 2,000 years ago when Homer constructed his epic account of the war.

When they compared their findings with his descriptions of the Trojan plain, they found a match.

Speaking to BBC World Service programme Science In Action, John Luce from Trinity College Dublin, explained the study's significance.

"It has to be taken seriously that the Homeric picture of the fighting at Troy is in close accord with the geological findings," he said.

River deposits

The whereabouts of Troy had long puzzled scholars. In ancient Greek times, Troy was said to be very close to the sea.

Then in the 1870s, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered what were believed to be the remains of an ancient city well inland from the coast of what is now Turkey.

CITY OF TROY
Ancient settlement on the Aegean coast, also called Ilium
Remains discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1870
Archaeological digs suggest a settlement on the site destroyed by fire 1200 BC
Homer's tale relates to a time when a large inlet of the Aegean Sea reached towards Troy.

Scientists now believe that, over the centuries, this inlet became silted up with the deposits from rivers, pushing the coastline back to its present-day position.

Classics expert Dr John Luce said: "At Schliemann's excavation, he took the site of the camp mentioned by Homer to be on the beach which one sees today, but in the course of 3,000 years the great rivers of [Scamander and Simois] have brought down enormous quantities of silt which have advanced the coastline by miles."

Seashell clue

Since 1977, Dr Luce has been involved with an international group of researchers who have taken part in a systematic drilling programme in an attempt to document the landscape changes.

Dr John Kraft, from the University of Delaware in the US, carried out the geological investigations, together with Turkish colleagues, drilling out samples of sediment from well below the surface.

HOMER'S ILIAD
Poet was believed to have lived in the 8th Century BC
Scholars suspect his works were authored by many individuals
The Iliad is set in the final year of the Trojan War
"We drilled for 70 metres below the flood-plain surface and we found 70 metres of marine material," he explained.

Further drilling south on the plain revealed what the researchers believe to have been a major marine area, leading them to conclude that the sea had been pushed back to its present location by a build up of silt deposits in the delta.

"It was right in front of Troy that we were drilling a hole and seashells came out," Dr Kraft enthused.

Back in Dublin, Dr Luce compared Schliemann's original claims with the researchers' findings and tested Homer's phrases in the Iliad.

Axis of attack

Homer wrote of the Greek ships that sailed to the coastal town of Troy, starting a war that would rage for 10 years. But when Dr Luce tried to apply the account of the battle with Schliemann's notion of Troy, he saw "that great difficulties had been raised".

"One of the problems was that you wouldn't cross from Troy," he explained. "But Homer repeatedly refers to the action as swinging backwards and forwards, crossing the river in the process."

Reinterpreting the written material led Dr Luce to "swing the axis of fighting round to a different viewpoint west of Troy".

In so doing, Dr Luce and colleagues have shown that Schliemann's location for Troy does agree with Homer's accounts of the battle.

This research is described in the journal Geology.

See also:

29 Oct 98 | Middle East
04 Jan 02 | Entertainment
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